Whitehall's bid to save £50m, one paperclip at a time

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Tax collectors have set up "swap shops" to redistribute surplus envelopes and briefcases. In one Whitehall outpost, staff are using ash from their bio-mass burner as garden fertiliser. Elsewhere, Home Office officials have taken to generating electricity from bootleg alcohol.

It might sound like a roll-call of clandestine efforts by cash-strapped public servants to make a few quid, but they are in fact a sample of the laudable – if offbeat – measures adopted across the Civil Service to reduce environmental waste and put £50m back into public coffers.

An audit of progress on a government pledge that all 21 Whitehall ministries and their associated agencies will significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2015 has laid bare the economies and slightly unusual practices now routinely followed in the name of green bureaucracy.

At Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), staff have solved the age-old problem of what to do with excess paper clips and other unused items cluttering up the stationery cupboard by setting up an online service where items from one corner of the taxman's empire can be offered to other needier parts.

Among the goods that have been re-homed by the intranet swap shop – albeit after the inevitable checks to ensure they comply with health and safety and data security rules – are staplers, a portable projector screen, a hard hat, briefcases and a supply of triangular bandages. Such has been the success of the scheme that the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have set up similar schemes.

At Home Office facilities which dispose of ill-gotten gains confiscated from members of the public, they shred contraband cigarettes and pour bootleg booze into an anaerobic digester to make electricity, and burn seized oil to power cement furnaces.

Fake trainers and boots have been ground up and used to resurface racehorse training areas.

Behind these more innovative methods for trimming waste lies a general campaign which ministers insist shows the Government is setting an example for how British businesses could save £28bn through the better use of resources.

Oliver Letwin, the minister for Government Policy, said: "Britain is in a global race and Whitehall cannot afford to waste a single penny so I'm pleased to see the way departments have responded to our challenge."

The bulk of Whitehall savings, some £40m, comes from more efficient heating and lighting designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There has also been a 36 per cent drop in the use of domestic flights and a 24 per cent reduction in paper use, much of it by switching to double-side photocopying.